42 - Cutlass Ramp Strike (1955)

The Cutlass Ramp Strike

14 July 1955

A diorama by Bjørn Jacobsen

This terrible accident happened on the 14 of July 1955 when a Cutlass crashed on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hancock

A F7U-3 piloted by LCDR Jay Alikir, USNR of VF-124 “Stingrays” was to land on the carrier.

The plane come inn to low and insufficient motor power prevented the Cutlass from clearing the ramp.

It struck the ramp and the airplane exploded while disintegrating airframe spins off portside. The pilot was killed when airframe sunk, still strapped into the ejection seat. 

Note the LSO (Landing Signal Officer) – often called the Batsman or Paddles – running for his life. His name was Ted Reilly and - against all odds - he escaped the crash! The hook spotter/talker jumped clear over the rail and was picked out of the sea OK, later. The other LSO's leaped into the net and rolled away OK. Seven of the arresting gear people in the catwalk all escaped with minor injuries.

The dramatic pictures from the crash are the base for this diorama

Chance Vought F7U Cutlass Carrier Jetfighter


In 1945, the German aircraft industry had built up a remarkable technical background of extremely advanced aerodynamic concepts during World War II.

With the fall of Germany this research material became available to

American designers toward the end of 1945.

Among the material was data on tailless aircraft from the German

Arado and Messerschmitt Company.

Guided by the German data, former Messerschmitt senior designer

W. Voigt, helped Chance Vought Company led to construct the highly

unconventional F7U Cutlass.

This unorthodox twin jet carrier fighter was proposed to the Navy

during a design competition in 1946.

The first flight was made on September 29, 1948,

Limited success and service, and a very bad safety record:

The main problem with the new fighter was the badly

underpowered engines.

If the F7U had had reliable and stronger engines the

history would have been quite different.

The full length leading edge slats made the Cutlass

almost stall proof and it could pull as many G’s as the

pilot could stand — it would have been an interceptor

without peer, especially with an armament of 4 x 20mm

cannon and 4 x Sparrow air-to-air missiles

But solving the Cutlass problems were not the Change

Vought greatest moments.

The placement of the cockpit was a massive obstacle

for pilot visibility during carrier launches and recoveries.

The unusually long nose gear put the pilot 15ft above

the ground was prone to folding and collapsing under

stress.  The ejection seats were very unreliable

Aircraft parts, including the landing gear doors, were

known to fall off in-flight, and engine fires were also

common occurrences.

Use of the afterburners drained the central tank so fast

that it was possible to flame-out the engines just after

take-off even though the wing tanks of the F7U were full.

Nevertheless, the Cutlass made it aboard six carriers

for a total of seven cruises between 1955 and 1957

The Cutlass soon gained a number of nicknames, the

majority of which were very unsavoury, and for good

reason. The “Praying Mantis”, the “Gutless Cutlass” and the “Ensign Eliminator” were among the most popular ones, the latter owing to the high accident rate.

Unfortunately, its loss rate was very bad. More than 25% of all Cutlasses were lost in accidents in three years of service

In the end, the F7U was deemed to be unsatisfactory for fleet use and was stricken from Naval Air inventory in 1957.

Overall, 288 Cutlasses were finally procured by the Navy.

Advanced German  research material was used for constructing the Cutlass

Building the F7U-3 Cutlass

The Hobbycraft kit is quite old (30 years), and needed some modification, especially in the cockpit area. 


The ejection seat is a mass of shapeless plastic, and the instrument panel is wrong.

I am not worried about the instrument panel because I will have a pilot in the seat which will more or less hide the instruments.

The ejection seat is another and I had to build the visible part of the seat with styrene parts.

The undercarriages seem quite all right and needed little adjustment except for break tubes.

It is a pity that the plastic parts are so thick, but that is to be expected of an old kit. A little sanding and grinding helps the most exposed parts though.

The Cutlass I needed was part of VF-124 and none of the decals in the kit was for VF-124.

I could only use the national markings, all others; I had to make from my old collection of decals.

The VF-124 emblem on the fins was not available anywhere so I just had to paint the death scull and daggers on the black background.

The Carrier


USS Hancock (CV/CVA-19) was one of 24 Essex-class aircraft carriers built during World War II for the United States Navy.

Hancock was modernized and recommissioned

in the early 1950s as an attack carrier (CVA)

She was decommissioned in early 1976,

The Cutlass Ramp Strike happened on the port quarter and I had to make this part of the ship as

a base for the diorama.

I used cardboard as building materials. which was easy to cut and glue together.

The aft deck in the diorama measured 49 x 74 cm (20 x 30 inches)

I had no exact details of the ship side of this part

of the carrier, so I just used my imagination and some not-very-detailed-pictures to do the scratch building, thinking that the details in the carriers construction was not the most essential part in

the diorama.

Besides, it would partly be covered in smoke, explosions and fragments anyway.

But, at last I had some use for some of the bits

and pieces in my left-over box.

By gluing all kinds of stuff to the ship side, I thought it looked OK in the end (at least for a layman), even if none of the parts belonged to a ship.

The carrier deck on the other hand, had to be a

lot closer to the original.

The USS Hancock had a wooden deck.

The colour was blueish-grey with yellow markings.


Of course the deck had a lot of stains from the wheels and jet blasts and the arresting wires were very visible.

The Crash 

The first I did was to rip off the under carriage, the ailerons, the port external fuel tank and the aft part of the fuselage of the Cutlass

Then I found some 220V LED lamps and put inside the fuselage and on the deck to create the explosion/fire.

The next step was to form some chicken wire to make a base for the smoke and fragments.

The Cutlass had a high-speed skid along the edge of the carrier and the explosion/fire come both from the plane and the broken fuel tanks spraying the deck behind the aircraft with fuel

I therefore made two “explosions” and used all together 8 LED lights to create the burning inferno.

I used red and yellow cellophane to colour the fire and cotton to create the smoke. Everything attached to the chicken wire which I formed as a base for the explosion smoke, making sure there was as much air inside the chicken wire as possible (for venting heat from the lamps)

The cotton was airbrushed with a little colour (black/yellow/red) to help creating the illusion of fire.

The wires from the LED lamps were hidden inside the cardboard deck.

Then I placed some fragments from the explosions, among others, one of the jet engines which were ripped loos and seen flying in the air behind the aircraft.

The advantages of the LED lights are that they do not get as hot as a halogen light.

There are a lot of batterie-driven LED lights (flickering candle-lights etc.) but all of them are too weak to provide the illusion of an explosion.

I therefore had to use lights that could be connected directly to the electrical outlet (in my case 220V).


Even if the heat from the lights as low, it will get hot after a while. The lights should therefore only be put on for a short time, and always under supervision.

Just to be sure, I put a dimmer on the electrical wire so I could reduce the light (and heat) if necessary

The Background

The backdrop to the diorama is just a painted cardboard.


Here is my picture story of the 

Cutlass Ramp Strike, July 14, 1955

dedicated to the men who lost their life in this accident


         Take-off from the USS Hancock

Developed from captured German aeronautical research data, that was reaching the United States at the close of WWII, the Chance Vought F7U Cutlass was probably one of the most unconventional designed carrier based fighters to be put into service by the US Navy.

The Cutlass was a very fast (almost 700mph) interceptor, and with more powerful and reliable engines, it would have been a formidable opponent to any aircraft in the beginning of 1950s. I do not know it ever intercepted the Russian Tu-95, but if it did, it might have looked like this

Approaching the carrier

The Cutlass is coming in far too low. The LSO seeing what was about to happened and runs for his life across the deck.

Trying to clear the ramp by military power and after burner.

The crash:

Some of the real pictures from the incident

I hope you liked this website!

Thank you for visiting!


Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions or comments


 Bjørn Jacobsen

February 2016